Femme is a term used in the lesbian subculture to describe usually a lesbian woman who has feminine traits, behavior, self-perception and so on.
However, anyone can be described as “femme” if they embody lots of traditional feminine traits and/or identify as being feminine.
Within the lesbian subculture, the term “femme” distinguishes the traditionally feminine lesbian from their “butch” (i.e. masculine) partner.
It is also associated with gay or queer sexual identity.
The exact meaning of the word itself comes from French, in which “femme” means “woman”.
The term derived from the 1940s-1950s American lesbian communities following World War II when women could join the workforce.
By the early 1990s, the term got “adopted” by bisexual women. Nonetheless, nowadays the term can also be used by self-describing feminine queer individuals of any gender.
Throughout the years, the lesbian community received acceptance and saw rejection from society.
Especially “femme” lesbian women, because they were accused by prominent lesbian feminist figures for wearing traditional feminine clothing.
Lesbian feminist poet and activist, Audre Lorde stated that “butch and femme role playing was the very opposite of what we felt being gay was all about–the love of women”.
During this period, in the 1970s and 80s, “femme” lesbians were often shamed for their appearance, but in the 21st century, society started to respect and also praise “femme” lesbians.